24/7: A Resource For Working Parents


Working Parent "Guilt"

Parents have to provide for their families. And in most Canadian families, that means two parents (or a single parent) working outside the home. It’s always been assumed that fathers will need to work outside the home. But the idea of full-time employed mothers is still relatively new in our social history. Ever since the 1970s, when it became more common for mothers with young children to work outside the home, people have wondered, and debated, about whether not having a ”working mom” is bad for children. As a consequence, some parents, especially women, say they feel guilty about working outside the home. If that’s you, here are a few thoughts that might make you feel a little better.

You’re not harming your child by working

Even though gender roles have shifted, with fathers doing more work inside the home than in the past and mothers doing more work outside the home, there is still one aspect of working parent guilt that tends to be felt primarily by women. Will my kids be OK in the long run.? Be reassured! There is no evidence that children of working moms are any more likely to have behaviour or emotional problems than children of stay-home parents. In fact, children of single moms tend to do better in life when their mom works outside the home. Daughters of working moms tend to become better educated. Need more convincing? Watch this interview with Professor Kathleen McGinn, professor of Business Administration at Harvard University, who has studied the impact of working moms on children’s development. 

Is it really guilt?

It’s normal to miss your baby or feel uneasy about leaving her in the care of someone else. If you often have to work long hours, or travel frequently for work, you might feel bad that you can’t be physically there for your children as often as you’d like. Or perhaps you worry that your spouse has a bigger parenting load than yo. We often label these feelings as guilt. But is it really guilt?

Guilt is something we’re supposed to feel when we’ve done something wrong. It’s a useful emotion that helps motivate use to make things right, or do better the next time. Parents who are contributing to their family’s financial well-being, not to mention contributing to society, by working outside the home are not doing anything wrong. But they might miss their children or feel sad that they can’t spend as much time with their children as they’d like. If you feel like that, it’s a sign that you care about your family. The best way alleviate that feeling is by connecting and reconnecting with your children each morning and evening and making the most of the time you spend with them.

Even so, you may still feel “guilty” at times. Then what? First of all, don’t feel bad about feeling guilty. It’s a sign that you care and that you want to do your best. But also ask yourself, “Is this guilty feeling a sign that I need to make a change? If the answer is yes, then look at what you need to change and how you can do that. If not, you need to let the guilt go. Try to focus on ideas and strategies that will help you be the best parent and working you can be. 


Remember:   Start with one or two modest changes or new strategies that are doable for you.


Is it guilt or is it stress?

The biggest problem for working parents may not be guilt, but stress.  Working outside the home, plus trying to do all the work of parenting and homemaking can make for a busy, and at-times, stressful lifestyle. And excess stress tends to make all of your other problems, including “working parent guilt,” feel worse. So why not focus on your stress rather than your guilt? If you can manage your stress better, chances are that guilt might feel like less of a problem. For more information, and links to stress management resources created by the Psychology Foundation of Canada, please refer to the resources listed in our Parent Stress article.

Thank you to Workplace Strategies for Mental Health for their support of 24/7: A resource for working parents.